Exhibits Reveal San Francisco's High-Tech "underground."(American Library Association Annual Conference)

By Dorman, David | American Libraries, August 1997 | Go to article overview

Exhibits Reveal San Francisco's High-Tech "underground."(American Library Association Annual Conference)


Dorman, David, American Libraries


While most librarians at ALA's Annual Conference were enjoying the glorious San Francisco weather, the festive atmosphere, and all the other diversions by the Bay, Technically Speaking spent three days below ground wandering the exhibit aisles.

Such single-minded dedication has its rewards: spring water from SilverPlatter; frisbees from Ford and Canon; soft-sided attaches from Demco and Seybold; more pencils and candy than even my 11-year-old son knew what to do with; and a mixture of soft sells and loud shouts telling us of products to come.

There oughta be a law

As always, there were a few vendors who annoyed their neighbors, even as they drew attention to themselves, with loud music and live entertainment. One of the more effective exhibitors on both accounts was Checkpoint Systems, who persuaded Elvis to sing a few songs, banter with onlookers, and introduce the new radio frequency (RF)-based chips that the company is offering as an alternative to that 30-year staple of library automation, the bar code.

The chips, which are manufactured by Mitsubishi and will initially sell for "less than a dollar," each contain a unique number, just as bar codes do. The difference is in how those numbers are communicated to the library system. Bar codes must be scanned by a beam of light; RF chips can be "read" by a field antenna (called an "interrogator" in industry lingo) from a few inches to up to six feet away. Checkpoint claims that an interrogator can read up to 50 chips per second.

This ability to read from a distance and without a line-of-sight connection means that a single chip put in a book can take the place of a bar code and a security strip. If a book that has not been checked out enters the interrogator field of a security station, the station not only registers the passage of an unauthorized book, it also identifies the book. This raises the possibility of also eventually combining a self-checkout station with a security station.

Checkpoint is working with a large university library to reengineer library circulation and inventory control using RF chip technology. The scenarios are fascinating to ponder: A staff member with a portable interrogator taking inventory without even touching the books on the shelf is one obvious possibility. Or how about a voice informing a patron walking past the interrogator into the library that he or she has a hold waiting at the front desk? We think Checkpoint should consider sponsoring a David Letterman-style "top 10 ways your library could use RF technology" list contest. For more information call Emmett Erwin at 800-257-5540, ext. 3102 or 609-8481800; fax 609-848-0937; e-mail eerwin@nj.checkpt.com; or visit www.checkpt.com for an overview of Checkpoint's RF intelligent tagging technology.

Striking the right key

Elvis and the other melodic merchandisers were not the only musical events at the exhibits. Sunhawk Corporation - a first-time exhibitor and three-year-old company founded by Marlin Eller, the designer of the first version of Microsoft Windows - demonstrated a line of CD-ROM and Internet-based digital sheet music. The software not only displays the sheet music and allows the user to print it out, but it plays each piece as well, highlighting each note as it is played. The company offers a full range of music: A CD of all 1,300 pages of Handel's Messiah sells for $50, and the complete sheet music of Scott Joplin goes for $45.

The software behind the CDs and the Internet sheet music download service is called Solero. It can vary tempo and can imitate over 175 instruments (one or two at a time, of course). Download Solero for free and check out the music at www.sunhawk.com, or contact the company at 888-SUNHAWK, 206-528-0876, or sunhawk@sunhawk.com.

If you are inclined more toward music education and interpretation, Musically Speaking, another first-time exhibitor, works with Jerard Schwartz of the Seattle Symphony to produce musical appreciation CDs featuring the life, times, and selected music of famous composers. …

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